State Code of Ethics Conflict with ACA, NASW

which LPC ethics state or prof association

What if your state licensing board ethics conflicts with ACA NASW or AAMFT

Many of LPCs credentials in addition to our state licenses. For example, many of us ACSW or NCC credentials. The first is administered by NASW and the latter by NBCC. Each counselor professional association has their own codes of ethics.

But what if these ethics conflict with your state licensing board?

Upfront, your state ethics and law prevail. Note these important examples:

Your State Laws

Let’s first address state law. For example, states have laws about sexual assault of patients by therapists. 

Some states place these criminal activities in the same category as psychiatrists,  probation officers and probationers and teachers/students, and so on.

In Georgia, it is a felony for a therapist to have intimate or sexual contact with a patient, but importantly consent cannot be used as a defense. This law is not in licensing law. It can be found in Georgia Code “Crimes and Offenses”. 

So in Georgia, a client cannot consent to sex with a therapist. It matters not if the patient even states the contact is consensual.

In Pennsylvania sex with current clients is a felony, but a therapist may enter into a sexual relationship 7 years after the date of termination of service. This can be found in Board law ( the licensing board that regulates the practice of Professional Counseling, Social Work and Marriage and Family Therapy.

Also, consent cannot be used as a defense. 

Conflicts in the Law and Ethics

Using Georgia law, it is generally consistent with GA’s Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers and Marriage and Family Therapists ethics code. Particularly that the matter of previous clients is “silent” i.e not explicitly in both state law and the Georgia board code of ethics. 

However, Georgia’s board has historically interpreted sexual relationships with clients to be “never”. In other words enforced as you can never enter into a relationship with a former client. Again, the code of ethics is ‘silent’ as regards former clients.

Importantly, the NBCC Code of Ethics states counselors cannot engage in sexual relationships with clients for at least two years after termination of therapy. So if you are a Pennsylvania licensee you could violate the law and still be in compliance with the NBCC code of ethics.

Same in Georgia.

NASW Code of Ethics provides for permitting sex with former clients provided it is not exploitive and the honus and burden is on the therapist to prove the relationship is not exploitive nor harmful to the former client.

Very importantly, that sexual assault by therapists is in Georgia criminal code and not in licensing code, it all but removes the board’s power to prevent criminal prosecution by the state. There has been at least one instance of a Georgia licensee serving a prison sentence. 

Hopefully this aids in understanding why both state law and state licensing law and ethics should be your first priority. Professional association ethics, second. 

Some states use ACA ethics as their board code of ethics but that is a conversation I’ll discuss in a later post.

You deserve a former licensing board president on your side.

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